The arrival of individual self consciousness.

Either the gentle arousal of sleeping beauty or disturbing a sleeping dragon, which is it?

The part:
An individual human could not become a self-reflective, thinking adult without the necessary bodily systems, processes and organs which comprise the whole organism.

The whole:
Earthly life could not reach a stage in which individual organisms become self-reflective, rational thinking beings without the forms of life which develop in a way that comprises the vast supporting structure that allow these few seeds of nascent self-aware consciousness to spring from the living earth. Life on earth is one self-regulating body while humanity provides the mind within that body.

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Design by Natural Selection: The LTEE

Lenski’s Long Term Evolutionary Experiment

Richard Lenski began the LTEE with 12 populations (six Ara^+ and six Ara^-) of the bacterium Escherichia coli on 24th February, 1988. The experiment is currently housed at Michigan State University and has run continuously apart from a short break while relocating to the present site and another during the height of the Covid-19 outbreak.

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Attack Ideas – not the people that hold them!

I heard this first at Uncommon Descent from blog-tsar, Dave Springer. I think it is a reasonable aspiration. Do we at TSZ fall short? Is it possible to attack the ideas of Donald Trump without being disparaging about the person of Donald Trump? I’ll admit to a lapse there. But in general, I think contributors support their claims and naked ad hominem seems rare here to me. Please correct me in comments if your mileage differs. Continue reading

Gunther Laird critiques natural law in The Unnecessary Science

Back in 2008, Catholic philosopher Edward Feser wrote a spirited defense of classical theism and natural law theory, which made quite a splash. Although Feser’s book, The Last Superstition, was subtitled “A Refutation of the New Atheism,” it was primarily a ringing reaffirmation of teleology as a pervasive feature of the natural world – a feature highlighted in the philosophical writings of Aristotle and his medieval exponent, Thomas Aquinas. What Feser was proposing was that the modern scientific worldview, with its “mechanical” view of Nature, was a metaphysically impoverished one; that human beings have built-in goals which serve as the basis of objective ethical norms; that the existence of God could be rationally established; and that religion (specifically, the Catholic religion) is grounded in reason, rather than blind faith. Since then, Feser has authored several other books in the same vein: Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide, Philosophy of Mind, Five Proofs for the Existence of God, Neo-Scholastic Essays, Scholastic Metaphysics, and most recently, Aristotle’s Revenge.

Until now, Feser’s skeptical critics haven’t been able to land any decisive blows, and many of those who have tried have come away with bloody noses. (The Australian philosopher Graham Oppy, who recently took part in two very civilized online debates with Feser on the existence of God [here and here], is one of the rare exceptions; Bradley Bowen, who reviewed Feser’s Five Proofs of the Existence of God three years ago, is another critic whom Feser treats with respect; Arif Ahmed, who went toe to toe with Feser on the existence of God, is a third critic who held his own against Feser.) However, Feser is now definitely on the ropes, with the publication of a new book titled, The Unnecessary Science, by Gunther Laird. The style of the book is engaging, the prose is limpidly clear, and the author possesses a rare ability to make philosophical arguments readily comprehensible to lay readers. As a further bonus, Laird is a true gentleman, whose book is refreshingly free of polemic. Throughout his book, he is highly respectful of Aristotle and Aquinas, even when he profoundly disagrees with them, and while he has occasional digs at Feser, they are lighthearted and in good humor. The scope of Laird’s book is bold and ambitious: the target of his attack is not merely the God of classical theism, but the entire Aristotelian-Thomistic enterprise of natural law theory, which he attacks on three levels: metaphysical, ethical and religious. Amazingly, despite the fact that Laird has no philosophical training beyond the baccalaureate level, he makes a very persuasive case: skeptics who read his book will come away firmly convinced that Feser has failed to prove his case, and that natural law theory needs to go back to the drawing board. And they will be right.
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From arithmetic, geometry and kinematics through mechanics to life.

Steiner’s first lecture of the First Scientific Lecture-Course, the so called, ‘Light course’, given in Stuttgart, on the 23rd December 1919, can be read here and it can be listened to here

He explains how the natural scientists of his day proceeded. They were interested in categorising, looking for causes behind phenomena, and observing phenomena to arrive at the ‘laws’ of nature. Goethe did not proceed in this way. He was not interested in looking for and speculating about unknown causes or categorisation. He looked at nature and observed how it was forever changing and studied this metamorphosis in great detail. He wished to stay within the observable to ask what it could tell him without speculating about any laws or hidden world behind the one observed.

The natural science are forever looking for pointwise forces to explain life. But, according to Steiner, life cannot be explained in this way. Life is formed out of the universal peripheral forces. These forces are not the same as the mechanical pointwise forces which are open to measurement. Steiner explains it thus: Continue reading

Yuletide greetings, Bonnes fêtes, Happy Holidays!

Above all, here’s hoping for a better year next year: Covid vaccines prove safe, effective and are universally available — USA re-establishes itself as a beacon of democracy — UK re-embraces Europe (or newly independent Scotland joins the EU along with a united Ireland) — consensus and effective action world-wide on climate change.

Suggestions on a postcard or post them here. Remember no topic is off-topic.

Santa destroys Christianity?

Winding down for a very quiet Christmas allows me plenty of time to read and one of my favourite places to read for news and comment is the Guardian. I like it because it was founded in 1821 as a moderate pro-business paper and morphed into a more radical stance with the arrival in 1872 of C. P. Scott as editor and later owner. Later, ownership was transferred to the Scott Trust (now the Scott Trust Endowment Fund) to ensure editorial and financial independence. That the online version is fully-financed and free to all is a bonus, too. I should declare a personal interest as a fourth generation descendant of C. P. Scott is a family friend. Continue reading

An A-Z of Unanswered Objections to Christianity: Q. The Virginal Conception of Jesus

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico. Early Renaissance fresco. Convent of San Marco, Florence, ca. 1440-45. Image courtesy of Magnus Manske and Wikipedia.

[This essay is part Q in my series, An A-Z of Unanswered Objections to Christianity on the crisis in Christian apologetics. Other parts completed to date:F. Angels, demons and aliens and H. Human Origins.]

The question I wish to discuss in this post is not “Is it true that Jesus was virginally conceived?” or even “Is it possible that Jesus was virginally conceived?” but “Is there any good evidence (historical, prophetic or otherwise) that Jesus was virginally conceived?” What I want to argue in today’s post is that even for someone who accepts the evidence for Jesus’ bodily resurrection, the evidence for Jesus’ virginal conception is unpersuasive and the arguments marshaled in support of it are riddled with fallacies.

I would like to make it clear at the outset that I am not asserting that Jesus was conceived naturally. Generations of Christians down the ages have drawn hope and inspiration from their belief that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and who am I to contradict them? After all, I’m one of them. What I am questioning is not the belief itself, but the justification for treating it as an essential teaching of the faith, as the vast majority of Christians continue to do (e.g. Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Lutherans, Calvinists and “Evangelical Christians”). As far as I can tell, there is no rational justification for doing so, and any attempt to argue for the Virgin Birth is sheer foolishness. Treating the doctrine as a “hill to die on” can only damage the credibility of Christianity, because it turns every argument against the doctrine into an argument against Christianity. Here’s why I think we should at least listen to the doubters, and why Christians who choose to believe in Jesus’ virginal conception should do so tentatively, acknowledging that they might, after all, be mistaken.

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Life Force, Compensation, Connections & the Ebb and Flow of Nature

In the latest post in my previous thread I quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson. The first paragraph read:

Polarity, or action and reaction, we meet in every part of nature; in darkness and light, in heat and cold; in the ebb and flow of waters; in male and female; in the inspiration and expiration of plants and animals; in the systole and diastole of the heart; in the undulations of fluids and of sound; in the centrifugal and centripetal gravity; in electricity, galvanism, and chemical affinity. Superinduce magnetism at one end of a needle, the opposite magnetism takes place at the other end. If the south attracts, the north repels. To empty here, you must condense there. An inevitable dualism bisects nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to make it whole; as, spirit, matter; man, woman; subjective, objective; in, out; upper, under; motion, rest; yea, nay.

The term, ‘life force’ will most probably invoke many criticisms and objections. But if we take it to mean observed vitality and let it stand at that without speculating any further, we can study its ‘ebb and flow’ in the natural world around us. We can see these processes in a wide variety of life forms. Continue reading

The 2020 US Presidential Election

Of course this should normally be a domestic affair for the people of the United States of America. But this year seems so extraordinary in many ways. I’m following events with interest, hope and alarm (not necessarily in that order). In 2016, I posted my thoughts on the imminent election, never for one moment thinking that the US would elect Donald Trump as president. Boy, was I wrong. Can I be wrong again? What do others think? Not that we have long to wait.

Vote early and vote often!

Entropy forbids Abiogenesis & Evolution

As discussed here extensively, nothing in “evolution” makes any sense: “natural selection, fitness, speciation, human evolution, gradualism, divergence of character, UCD, TOL, etc. etc.” Not one makes sense. Meanwhile, the “evolution” argument is just one big “affirms the consequent” logical fallacy, while Paley’s excellent argument has never been overturned, and an intuitive intelligent design detector can be used to easily disprove “evolution”. Is there a need for any more proofs? Not really. Are there any other proofs? You bet. Take entropy for instance… Continue reading

Miracles, Exorcisms, ID and the spread of the Gospel (thinking of VJ Torley)

Astronaut Charles Duke became a Christian after he returned to Earth after being the youngest man to ever walk on the moon and after finding himself in a troubled marriage and problems with alcoholism. The Christian faith restored his marriage and brought sobriety into his life, and sometime thereafter he led a prayer meeting where a blind girl recovered her sight. Somewhere in all his life’s saga, he also became a Creationist.

One of the people who posted at TheSkepticalZone, Richard B. Hoppe (RBH), knew of Duke, perhaps even personally since RBH worked on the Apollo program intimately. When I confronted RBH about Duke’s Christianity and Creationism, RBH (normally quick to criticize Christian Creationists) became strangely silent. No one to my knowledge has questioned Charles Duke’s credibility or integrity as far a making up stories to draw attention to himself or make Christian converts. After all, he was a national hero, an air force general, an astronaut, and a successful businessman. Unlike a televangelist, there is little reason for him to make up stories of miracles.

I had the privilege of meeting Charle Duke when he spoke at a College Christian event…

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Recap redux

David Nemati and Eric Holloway, “Expected Algorithmic Specified Complexity.” Bio-Complexity 2019 (2):1-10. doi:10.5048/BIO-C.2019.2.

Eric Holloway has returned to The Skeptical Zone, following a long absence. He expects to get responses to his potshot at phylogenetic inference, though he has never answered three questions of mine about his own work on algorithmic specified complexity. Here I abbreviate and clarify the recap I previously posted, and introduce remarks on the questions.

If there is a fundamental flaw in the second half, as you claim, then I’ll retract it if it is unfixable.
— Eric Holloway, January 2, 2020

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Fallacy of the Phylogenetic Signal: Nucleotide Level


For the past month or so I’ve been investigating the claim that the phylogenetic signal is evidence that a dataset shares common descent.

Supposedly, the phylogenetic signal is one of, if not the, strongest pieces of evidence for common descent. It is one of the first of the 29+ evidences for evolution offered over at Talk Origins (TO).

Quoting from the article:

The degree to which a given phylogeny displays a unique, well-supported, objective nested hierarchy can be rigorously quantified. Several different statistical tests have been developed for determining whether a phylogeny has a subjective or objective nested hierarchy, or whether a given nested hierarchy could have been generated by a chance process instead of a genealogical process (Swofford 1996, p. 504). These tests measure the degree of “cladistic hierarchical structure” (also known as the “phylogenetic signal”) in a phylogeny, and phylogenies based upon true genealogical processes give high values of hierarchical structure, whereas subjective phylogenies that have only apparent hierarchical structure (like a phylogeny of cars, for example) give low values (Archie 1989; Faith and Cranston 1991; Farris 1989; Felsenstein 1985; Hillis 1991; Hillis and Huelsenbeck 1992; Huelsenbeck et al. 2001; Klassen et al. 1991).

I’ve been skeptical of this claim. A tree is just one kind of directed acyclic graph (DAG), and my hunch is many kinds of DAGs will also score highly on metrics for phylogenetic signal. I picked one metric, the consistency index (CI), which according to Klassen 1991 is the most widely used metric. It also is the featured metric in the above TO article. Plus, it is very simple to calculate. So, I’ve focused my efforts on the CI metric. Continue reading

The Spiralling Flow of Life

In this series of videos Johannas Jaeger gives us some very interesting things to consider. He considers proteins to be pleomorphic assemblies not molecular machines.
Jaeger doesn’t believe in, nor feel the need to propose any extrinsic form of vitalism, but he does accept what Denis Walsh called methodological vitalism. If organisms are purposeful then it is an intrinsic purposefulness.

If we are to gain a meaningful understanding of the organism the machine metaphor will in no way suffice. Life is self-sustaining at all levels. The symbol of the caduceus is apt at so many levels, from the double helix of DNA to the movement of the solar system as it travels around the galaxy. Here is a link to a gif of the motion of the planets relative to the sun. Our hearts take on their form by the layers of muscle being laid down in a helical manner as the blood spirals onward. Continue reading

Sexual selection has a burning desire to discuss sexual selection. So, let’s.

The topic was tangential (though not entirely unrelated) to the evolutionary psychology thread. Nonlin was unable to restrain his contempt for his interlocutors, and so his final missive was guanoed. The opportunity to repost was declined, as guanoing is ‘censorship’ (in plain sight!) and a ‘white flag’ allowing nonlin to declare victory and strut around like … well … a peacock.

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